Melania Trump forges ahead as first lady with Africa trip
First lady Melania Trump heads for Africa on her first big solo international trip, aiming to make child well-being the focus of a five-day, four-country tour that will take her to every corner of the vast and impoverished continent. Departing on Monday, she opens her first-ever visit to Africa on Tuesday in Ghana in the West, followed by stops in Malawi in the South, Kenya in the East and Egypt in the Northeast.
Her first extended turn on the world stage outside the shadow of President Donald Trump could still be complicated by her husband, who has spoken of the continent in impolite and even vulgar terms.
That leaves the first lady with some fence-mending duties.
“She’s got some heavy lifting to do on this trip and it’s a little bit unfair because that’s not what a first lady’s trip should be about,” said Judd Devermont, the Africa program director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. First ladies usually practice a softer form of diplomacy, showing interest in a host nation’s schools, hospitals and arts programs, and avoiding thornier issues.
Joshua Meservey, a senior Africa policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, countered by noting the “positive engagements” the president has had with some African heads of state, including President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, who met with Trump at the White House in late August. Trump also met last week in New York with President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt.
Meservey also noted that the U.S. spends considerable amounts on public health and development initiatives in Malawi, which is among the world’s least-developed countries.
“I think the U.S.-Africa relationship is much bigger than the president’s comments, and it’s been going on for decades and decades,” he said. “Frankly, I suspect the vast majority of average Africans have not heard of any of those dust-ups. It’s very much an elite preoccupation.”
“Africans are, generally speaking, very gracious hosts” who will “roll out the red carpet and do their absolute best to be hospitable,” Meservey said.
Days before the first lady was to board a U.S. government airplane for the flight across the Atlantic, Trump declared at the United Nations that he and his wife “love Africa.”
Mrs. Trump’s five days on the continent will feature a mix of visits to hospitals, schools and shelters as she focuses on the well-being of children.
Child welfare is a top issue for Mrs. Trump, the mother of a 12-year-old son. She focuses on the issue in the United States through an initiative she launched this year named “Be Best.” This week’s trip will mark her first extended period promoting the program and its goals abroad, separate from an event she held during a stop in London with the president in July.
A former fashion model born in Slovenia and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, the 48-year-old Mrs. Trump has traveled extensively with the president, including to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy, Brussels, France, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom. She was in Finland for the president’s July summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin but did not go to Singapore for Trump’s June meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Her only other international foray was brief: a September 2017 day trip to Toronto to join Britain’s Prince Harry at a military athletic competition.